Sun Storm glanced down at Josh with an encouraging smile as Quill took those who weren't going to the ski resort. The nervousness was etched into the eyes of the young man as he managed to force a brief return grin.
After several moments of silence Sun Storm glanced over to the four remaining kids from COUGARS 43 and motioned for them to come back inside the salon. As he waited to be the last one in, it took everything he had not to show the degree of pain in his ribs. Finally he patted Rachal on the back as the girl took one last look in the direction the two hovercrafts had gone and closed the door.
Even though he thought he was hiding the degree of his discomfort, it clearly failed as both Skye and Reed moved up and helped him to slowly sit.
Reed was the first to break the uneasy silence. "Sir, you are in no condition to join us."
Sun Storm clenched his fist and frowned deeply. "I'll stay with the…"
Josh shook his head. "Sir, with all due respect, Reed is right. Even if you stay with the snow cats, they may get to you and you don't have much left to fight with. Even worse, they may find a way to extract where your son and Senator Jackson's kid is."
Sun Storm started to argue, but stopped short as he realized even his own son was looking at him skeptically. "All right, fine… I know you are all right, but…" He stopped, "No… no buts…" He winced as he took out a deep breath and glanced around the room.
When he resumed speaking, his voice was softer, and a few tears threatened to spill out of the corners of his eyes. "Kids, I could not be more proud to be an Augment than I am right now. The courage, bravery, concern for friends, strangers, and even some of your enemies... our enemies, shows a strength of character far beyond not only your ages, but also humanity as a whole. If even a fraction of Augments and Normals were more like those in this room, the whole world would be a better place to live.
"Now I know both Quill and I have told you this, so don't get annoyed or insulted when I try one more time to say none of you have to do this. Before you give me a final answer, I want you to look around at those around you, because chances are high one or more may not be here tomorrow. Can you go into this fight with such knowledge?"
It took quite a while, but Ricky was the first to speak, "Dad, I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't try. Ever since mom left, you have told me never to abuse my growing augmentations, but not be ashamed of them either. You also told me after the big fight with mom about you being part of the anti-animal Augment unit, there was a fine line between doing what is right and doing harm, and you and mom just saw the line in a slightly different place.
"Until now I didn't know what you meant, but now I have seen what abuse of augmentations can do to both Normals and other Augments. This time there is no doubt the line has been crossed. Unlike a blurry line between protecting lives of weaker beings over exceptional animals who just want to survive, these jerks have shown they don't want to just survive, they want to do harm for the sake of power. They have killed Normals and Augments and are threatening to continue to do it over and over.
"No longer am I angry at the fact I am an Augment, but I will be forever embarrassed to be one if we don't at least try to stop those others at the ski resort. It is like you taught me about the Nazis in World War Two; those who let the slaughter happen were every bit as guilty as those doing the killing. In simple terms I cannot hide who I am, what I am, and if I die, so be it. These people must be stopped and I have to help do it, or I am no better than they are!"
Rex glanced over and nodded while Valda put an arm around Ricky. At the same time others did everything from clenching of fists to uttering angry sounding growls. To a kid, doubts seemed to vanish and were replaced by a hard edge tempered with grim determination.
Josh glanced around as he grabbed his pack off the floor. "Sorry, Sun Storm, but like it or not, it looks like we all feel pretty much the same way. Win or lose, we have to try, and losing is just not an option. On the other hand, if a few of us get seriously hurt or even die, we will at least be able to look others in the eye and say we took a stand when someone needed to." He turned and spoke in a commanding voice with no hint of hesitation. "Time to gear up, BEARS 97."
Across from him, Cassie yanked her own pack off the floor and slung it over her shoulder. "COUGARS 43 have your backs. Let's move!"
As the kids piled out of the door and headed for the snow cats, Sun Storm slammed his fist into the arm rest of the chair, breaking it off. "The world needs to know about this!"
Across the room TJ stood opened his hand, revealing a top of the line cell phone with camera and movie capability. "The second I am sure this will not harm their chances for success, the whole thing will be on the net."
Sun Storm's eyes went wide. "You recorded the whole thing?"
A bit of a smirk crossed TJ's lips. "I've been recording on and off since the fight earlier today. No matter what happens, the world needs to know about all these kids. I am sure some will dispute what I have here as staged, faked, or edited, but many will believe and what these kids are, who they are, needs to be preserved."
Sun Storm's eyes narrowed. "Are you really a Normal?"
"Yeah, and just like so many other Normals, I turned my back on my best friend when he turned out to be an Augment in the fourth grade. I was not one of those who teased him, threw things out him, spit on him, put stuff in his food, and all the other horrible things kids did to him… But I didn't do a thing to stop it… I stopped answering the phone when he tried to call, and I refused to open my window the night he came to my window crying three years later. In simple terms I was guilty because I did nothing.
"I was the only kid in my class who attended his funeral after he committed suicide the same night he knocked on my window. I hated myself and I even tried taking my own life a couple of times myself afterwards, but was stopped both times by rather weird circumstances. I had no idea why, but decided there must be a reason. When Colt arrived at my window last night, it was like a second chance… Maybe this is why I was prevented from ending my own life when I probably deserved to die…"
Sun Storm lowered his head and shook it sadly. "You were just a kid; what could you have…"
TJ kicked a wall, putting a hole in plaster board and cutting off Sun Storm. "I could have continued to be a friend! I was the same age, or damned close to the same age, as the kids who just left here, willingly putting their lives on the line for others… I couldn't even open my damned window!"
"Well, last night you did," Sun Storm reminded TJ. "And you saved one kid for sure and probably many of the others who came here, especially since you provided food, shelter, and a safe place to rest. Those kids were fully rested and their augmentations at peak performance because of you. Then, after it was over, you once again opened your home and business to them so they could take some valuable down time, rest, and recharge. Every person they rescue and every child who comes back tonight owes you a debt of gratitude."
"Part of me knows what you're telling me, but it is not enough," TJ countered. "Getting the world to see what these kids have done, are doing, and willing to do is the next step, and I think it has to come from a non-Augment, a Normal if you want to go with the politically correct term…"
"I'd be happy to just see those in this county to see those cadets as something other than monsters to be feared," Sun Storm muttered softly.
"Then I will start there," AJ stated with an undertone of sadness. "They deserve more, but I guess we have to start somewhere. I'll be upstairs. If you need anything give me a shout."
In the back of the snow cat being piloted by Reed, Josh frowned slightly as he noticed one of the girls from the COUGARS squadron had purposefully sat away from everyone else and was aimlessly fidgeting with one of the straps to her field pack.
As the vehicle continued to move closer to the objective, Josh couldn't stand it any longer. "Rachal, what's wrong?"
The twelve-year-old's head jerked up, clearly startled. "Nothing... I… Just checking my pack."
Josh shook his head, stood in a crouch and moved over to her. "You've been looking at the end of the same fastener for the last ten minutes and you purposefully sat away from the rest of us."
Logan spoke up as well. "Yeah, and you haven't said a single word since you joined us at the Salon…"
"Nothing to say."
From the front Reed spoke up. "Come on Rach, you may as well tell them. They are not going to look down on you, and you need to stop hiding. Just like Mom has told you over and over, you need to open up and let others in if you ever want to make real friends."
"Shut up, Reed!" Rachal fired back with a venomous hiss. "You're from a family of Augments!"
"I'm not," Skye quickly responded.
"Neither am I," Logan spoke up. "As a matter of fact, none of us have Augment parents and only a couple of us have Augment brothers or sisters."
Rachal glared at Skye then at Logan while purposefully sliding as far away from Josh as the seats in the snow cat would allow. "Oh, so you think you understand or something?
"Understand what?" Tanner asked. "You aren't telling us nothing."
Tears welled up in the girl's eyes as she pushed herself up in the corner and shouted, "I'm no different than those we are going to fight. I am an unwanted!"
"Not true, Rach!" Reed barked from behind the controls. "You are part of my family! Mom and Dad love you every bit as much as me and you know it. From the day you came to live with us, you have been my sister and always will be!"
"I KNOW! But I'm still an unwanted! My real mom and dad threw me away like trash. I just got lucky because Reed saw the whole thing and took me to his house…"
"Our house, Rach," Reed growled. "It is every bit as much yours as mine!"
"Yeah, but without you, your folks, and Quill forcing though adoption paperwork, I'd have been right where those we are fighting are at. I got lucky, they didn't."
Josh held up his hand, cutting off Skye before she could respond. "Rachal, your past, no matter what happened or how, does not change who you are or the fact you are part of this rescue team."
"No?" The girl sniveled, "The only difference between those we are fighting and me, is I was taken in by an RLD supporting family. Now everyone expects me to go pound on them because someone else took them in…"
"No." Valda spoke up, "It has nothing to do with who got taken in by whom. This is about what is being done and how. These people have hurt others because they can, not because they have to. They aren't defending themselves against those in the ski resort. Those people did nothing to them…"
"Nothing for them either."
"Probably not," Josh agreed without hesitation. "But if you saw a group of kids beating on a weaker group of kids because they could, would you stop them?"
Rachal wiped her eyes and managed to look up at Josh. "Well, yeah!"
Gwen nodded. "That is all we are trying to do!"
Logan extended one of his gloom blades. "Just look at it as going to put down a group of bullies. It makes no difference who they are, other than they are way more dangerous than the average thug. All we have to worry about is keeping each other safe and preventing the bullies from kicking the snot out of those weaker than them."
Rachal looked down and twiddled her fingers for a few seconds before looking back up, "But you didn't just put them down… you all killed them… you killed them and you don't seem to care!"
Valda shook her head in anger and fired an icy look over at the girl. "Bullshit!"
Josh held up his hand. "Come on, Valda…"
"No, Josh!" Valda roared, "No one, Augment, Normal, or fellow cadet, is going to accuse me of not caring about helping to kill someone, even someone like Dark Raven!" She pushed Josh's hand down and moved to sit right across from Rachal.
When Valda started speaking again, her voice was full of anger. "Last night, when I helped to kill Dark Raven, I was in a near panic over the thought of having to kill someone. However, as I heard what the jack-ass had done to others, something changed inside me. Do you realize what he did to Gustav, Ajax, those two kids we found and countless others? He drained them, fed on their life energy, forced them to do whatever he wanted under threat of more draining. He even threatened and carried through with the draining and murder of friends and family!
"Yeah, I helped kill the Son of a Bitch! It was my idea, my trap, my control over a couple of trees that finished him off, and I am proud of it! He needed to die before he did more harm. It is a horrible choice, but one I am once again making even as we close on the ski resort. Because, like it or not, I am willing to kill again to protect those people in the lodge, even those I know have been mean to us in the past. They might not have earned it, but they sure as hell don't deserve what is happening to them right now."
Gwen suddenly spoke up. "Remember most of them are probably here as part of a Christmas vacation with family and friends.
"As a matter of fact, I know a couple of kids from our school went up there a couple of days early, and one boy left class the other day talking about how he was going to miss the last couple of days before winter break because he was going to the resort with his family. He was so excited about it because he was going to see his grandmother from Austria for the first time since he was in kindergarten. For all I know he could be in there right now having God only know what done to him or his family. No one deserves to have such a thing ruined, no one."
Skye grinned. "Especially Killian, right?"
Gwen turned bright red. "SKYE!"
Tanner glanced over with a gleam in his eyes and a great deal of humor in his voice. "Gwen's got a boyfriend? Do tell!"
Logan laughed hard as Gwen shot out one of her whips and lightly smacked Tanner's thigh, and Tanner yelped and scrambled to put Josh between him and Gwen. "Watch it, Tanner, it would sure be embarrassing to have to tell everyone you got your butt kicked by a fifth grade girl over winter break!"
Valda also giggled but returned her gaze to Rachal. "Look, regardless of who they are, I will do whatever it takes to protect them, up to and including killing, but is it sure doesn't mean I am thrilled about it!"
Rachal took a deep breath, "OK, fine, but it still feels like I am as much like them as I am part of you all."
"No, you aren't," Valda spoke forcefully, "and before you go firing your mouth off again, realize before Dark Raven died, I even talked about not wanting to have to kill. In the other snow cat, behind us, Rex and Garret willingly risked their lives to save a couple of those who are now part of our group, even though they were attacked by them. At the same time both of them killed others. I'm not sure how they are coping with it, but I'll bet they feel pretty much the same as I do. Right now I am angry at Dark Raven for putting me in a spot where I had to choose to kill him or let him get away and hurt others. I think I made the right one, and I know in my heart there are a great many who will never have to feel their life getting sucked out of them because he is dead."
Valda wiped a few tears out of the corners of her eyes. "But don't you ever try to tell me I don't care about what I did! Because I still killed a person and will have to live with the memories the rest of my life. When I closed my eyes to go to sleep last night I saw the blood blasting outward, saw his body shred, and I doubt I will ever be able to totally get those images out of my mind. Even as I get ready to fight again, part of me is wondering how many other faces I will have in my dreams tonight, faces of those I am about to fight and possibly kill…"
Rachal looked down at the floor, and kicked at the back of her right heel with her left foot. Her eyes never came off the floor as she spoke in a weak voice, "Sorry."
From up front Reed once again glanced over his shoulder, "Rach, I warned you to be careful what you said…"
"It's OK, Reed." Tanner quickly spoke up in Rachal's defense while still carefully eyeing Gwen. "I think it's something we all need to talk about." He took a deep breath before continuing, "I killed today, I didn't mean to, but it really doesn't matter, I still killed someone. Right now I really don't have much to say cause I keep thinking I should feel some kind of… guilt? I don't even know… The problem is, I don't feel much of anything… What does that say about me?"
Skye shrugged and exhaled loudly. "It means nothing, Tanner. She was trying to hurt or kill several of us. You did what you had to do, nothing more, nothing less. Besides, your new augmentation came out of the blue, no signs, no warnings, nothing. Your body reacted to the extreme danger by opening the door to it. She is the one who unlocked it, and she paid the price."
"Yeah, but…" Tanner clenched his fist in frustration as he paused. "What if I accidentally use it and kill someone else? What if…"
Josh quickly cut Tanner off, "We all live with the 'what if', Tanner. One of the whole reasons we were sent to training at Whiteman Air Force Base was to learn how to handle the unlocking of a new augmentation. They pushed us to the point where we unlocked one, then taught us how to prevent it from happening in a destructive way, but most of us still cause damage. There is no way they can put us through real combat; there is no way to control what happens when we are pushed past the safety of training and into life and death circumstances.
"They can train us to feel a new ability emerging as we get angry. They can teach us to direct an energy surge in a non-dangerous direction, and they can teach us how to hold a new talent in check long enough to go outside and release it, but all the training, all the tests, all the hours spent working with us, cannot duplicate what you were faced with out on the street earlier. It was you or her. If you hadn't killed her she would have killed you."
Gwen let out a sigh before joining in the conversation. "I think I have something new coming out too, Tanner. Just before Reed grabbed me to help me hold my force whip in place, I felt a strange surge, just like I did at Whiteman before my force whip came out the first time, but now I can't seem to figure out what it was."
Logan managed a grin. "I think we all ought to come with instruction guides."
Despite her mood, Rachal giggled. "It sure would have stopped me from putting the guy through the window at the mall."
"The way he was beating on his kid, he deserved it." Reed spoke up again as he punched a couple of buttons to pull up the radar so he could find the other snow cat in front of him. "I almost threw one of my chi daggers at him, but I didn't want RLD to throw me out four days after getting done with my second stint of control training."
"You had to go twice?" Valda asked with a great deal on dread in her tone.
"Yeah..." Reed let out a long breath, "The first time I went they almost classified me as a one because all I could do was make sound do all sorts of weird things, but they kept saying my ability was too strong for me to be a Class One, so they kept me an extra month and sent me to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska..."
Skye cringed, "They only send the hardest to train Augments there! I hear it is brutal!"
"Yeah… well I was there exactly twenty-four minutes before I unlocked my Chi Daggers… The flight down was delayed because of bad weather; at least they told me it was. So I waited on the back of an empty cargo plane for like five hours. The crew was nice, and one of the guys gave me a candy bar and showed me the controls and played a board game with me, but it was boring and I was getting hungry before we even took off. The copilot even let me come up front and take the controls for a while, but the second we hit the ground everything changed.
"Once I got off the plane, the pilot had me grab my gear and handed me off to the huge guy with a USDT Training Corps patch. His uniform didn't have a name tag and he didn't say a word, only opened the door and pointed to the back of the jeep. I tried to talk to him, tell him I needed to go to the bathroom, but all he said was 'You're late and screwing up my already long day.' He grumbled the whole time as he took me across the runways to a set of huge hangers. The guy dropped me off inside the biggest one and told me to follow the signs to the chow hall. As he pulled away he said someone would get with me and assign me a room once I was fed.
"It was a little freaky, because there was no one else around and before I could even grab my gear bag he had tossed it out and was pulling away. The second I got through the door, another airman simply pointed down a hall saying 'You must be the Canadian kid. Well, you're late. You only have a few minutes until chow lines closes.' He then added, 'We ain't the nice and softy bunch you northern brats get for Basic Augment Training. BAT has a whole new meaning here and next meal isn't until 0430 tomorrow. So if you want a meal you best hustle; we don't cater to no one for any reason and this is your last chance to eat before lights out.'"
"About halfway to the door at the far end, they killed the lights and tilted the whole room on me. They were totally ready for me because they even took out all the smell except for bleach, so I couldn't even use my smell sight. I totally freaked out. The next thing I knew, I had these in my hands…" He held out his hand and produced a glowing shaft of light and held it up for everyone to see.
Reed shook his head and let out a long breath. "I slammed one of them into the wall and held on so I wouldn't fall and used the other for light. A short time later the hall stopped moving and the lady who was my trainer for the rest of the month appeared at the far end.
"I still remember her words, 'Wow, a new personal record for me. Twenty four minutes and twelve seconds from touch-down to finding a new Augmentation and Empowerment. Now all we have to do is find out what else you have inside you and teach you how to use your new-found strength and those nasty sharp blades of yours. But first, let's get you fed.' She was so nice, so calm, and so happy about it, it still pisses me off."
Josh couldn't help but snicker. "Man, they set you up from the time you got on the transport in Canada!"
Rachal looked up, somewhat relieved by the change in subject. "Really?"
"Oh yeah!" Josh continued to chuckle, "They got him hungry, gave him a candy bar which we all know is nothing but fast energy, and only ends up making us hungrier later, took his mind off of being hungry and gave him a reason for it all. Then they handed him over to a guy who was already intimidating because of his size and made it seem like the guy was blaming Reed for having to work so long. By the time he got to the hanger he was a bit scared, very hungry, and in a totally unknown environment. Making matters worse, they set a deadline for him to get food and made it seem like he would not get fed again till the next day if he missed dinner, so he never had a chance to think about any possible scare tactics. All he wanted to do was eat and get settled!"
"Exactly," Reed agreed. "I never had a chance to get my bearings, let alone prepare for a surprise. Besides, everything they said and did made sense. My being late and missing lunch wasn't anyone's fault, so I never suspected a thing.
"The next month was brutal, though. There wasn't a kid there who didn't bawl his eyes out a dozen times from fear, exhaustion, frustration, anger, and even joy over getting full control over a new augmentation. It was crazy, because even when I expected a surprise and it came, it still caught me off guard. There was one kid in my room who was a telepath, and not even he could predict when the next test was coming!"
Reed paused as he glanced down at the radar. He took a deep breath as he quickly changed the subject. "Cassie just took the cutoff onto Northern Lights Road."
"OK," Josh stated as he jumped up front into the co-pilot seat, "Slow up. We have less than a mile to the resort and they have just over two. They also have the advantage of not having buildings on the way, so they will remain unseen longer than we will."
Josh glanced around to make sure everyone was listening before he continued. "Just a reminder, we are the distraction team. We want those holding the hostages to focus in on us and with any luck come out after us. The more we can draw off the other team, the easier it will be to get the hostages out safely."
Before more could be said a shape of a person, wearing only boxers and a torn tee-shirt, materialized out of the blowing snow. Even as Reed slowed, a small ball of flame smashed into the small figure. Yet, even as Josh pushed open the door, all those in the snow cat could see a golden outline appear as the explosive ball of fire wrapped around the figure without actually making contact.
The figure spun and extended an arm. A moment later a bluish-white beam shot out of the hand as the fingers formed into a cup-like shape.
Half a second later a howl of pain came from out of the blowing snow telling everyone someone had clearly been on the receiving end of the beam of energy.
Josh started to warn of a possible trap, but stopped as his eyes fell on the coiled cobra insignia on the kid's tattered tee-shirt with the number 7 in one eye and 5 in the other. "Holy crap! He's a COBRA! Deploy and defend!"
Even as the kid jerked his head at the sound of Josh's voice, the back doors of the Snow cat burst open.
Before Skye's feet even hit the snow her geode skin had encased her. Using her incredible strength, she waded through the snow and took position between the kid and where the fire ball had come from.
Right behind her, Tanner extended his hand and discharged a wave of superheated air, melting a path for the kid to easily make it to the snow cat.
On the opposite side Rachal nodded. "I'll go high and see what's coming!" Before anyone could stop her, she leapt out, grabbing a branch of a nearby tree and quickly disappeared as she used her light bending ability to become all but invisible. The only indication of her path came from the movement of braches in the fifty-foot-tall pine as she climbed it in a matter of seconds.
Logan slipped under Tanner's extended hands and tumbled out of the snow cat onto the path Tanner had just created. Coming up on his feet with blades extended and the dark shimmer of his gloom armor starting to from around him, he shouted. "COBRA, We're BEARS and COUGARS! Fall back through us!"
Valda also jumped out onto the path created by Tanner, her woody armor and thorns once again poking holes in her BEARS coat. "We'll form a wall after you get behind us! Let us take the lead!"
Gwen wasted no time flipping her wrist. Her golden colored whip wrapped around the same branch as Rachal had first used. She then leapt out of the back door, used the whip like a swing rope, and spun around the front of the snow cat, landing on the snow-cleared path right behind Logan. With a second flip of her wrist, the whip vanished leaving her standing. At the same time another whip emerged from her other hand proving to all she was ready to engage.
"Now that was cool!" Reed stated as he watched Gwen swing by the front window. Even as he spoke, a glowing Chi dagger formed in his hand. Once all the others were safely out except Tanner, he slammed the vehicle into park, closed the open passenger door, and hit the automatic locks for the front doors. With the cockpit secure, he moved into the back so he could easily defend both sides of the snow cat from the inside.
He glanced at Tanner, "We stay here. We can't afford to let them get the snow cat."
Tanner nodded his understanding as he took a knee and watched as the kid in the Central Offices Bureau Remarkable Adolescents Squadron Seventy-five tee-shirt fired another beam of bluish-white light in the direction of the first one. He then glanced over his shoulder, only to have twin streaks of dark energy slam into his armor. Once again it shimmered as it absorbed the attack, but did cause the kid to wince slightly as he clearly took some of the impact.
Gwen gazed in the direction the twin rays had come from and, with the help of a wind gust parting the snow, managed to catch sight of a figure as it moved behind a nearby tree. She flipped her other wrist, bringing out her second whip as she moved forward and muttered, "There you are!"
Before anyone of the others realized what was happening, Gwen's whips hissed as they ripped through the short distance between her and the other figure behind the tree. One whip wrapped around the person's left wrist and the other spun around the right elbow on the other side of the tree.
Gwen yanked back with everything she could muster, slamming the totally unprepared attacker's face into the tree. Even as the figure struggled to pull free, dragging Gwen forward, Gwen felt a ripping of power through her whole body. She yanked again, this time lifting the all-but-defenseless person off the ground and into the tree again.
Before the badly injured and stunned person could so much as scream, Gwen repeated the maneuver a third time. This time her newly-found enhanced strength was fully flowing though her. The results were devastating. Both the battered being's shoulders popped out of their sockets as the unprotected face met with the tree a third time, breaking the nose and jaw bone while embedding the front teeth deep into the wood under the bark. Even as Gwen finally uncoiled her whips and looked for a new target, the figure collapsed to the ground twitching, leaving a rather gruesome red streak of blood down the trunk and half a dozen teeth deep in the tree.
Moments later Gwen was flung back into the snow off the path as a concentrated burst of air crashed into her.
Valda spun as she saw a man duck behind another tree. "Bad move!" She hissed as she extended her left hand and pointed at the huge lodge pole pine. A moment later scores of massive foot long spines erupted out of the lower three feet of the tree. Screams of agony told everyone on both sides of the growing battle just how effective Valda's impromptu retaliation had been.
She glanced over her shoulder. "Gwen?"
Gwen stood, albeit with a pretty bad limp. With tears in her rage-filled eyes, she targeted a woman who was swooping down on the COBRA kid with a hand coated with a dark glob. Gwen snapped her whips leaving a pair of nasty gashes across the hand causing the darkness around it to vanish. "I twisted my ankle, but I'll live!"
Even as the woman yanked back her hand and let out a string of curses, Rachal leapt off a branch over thirty feet above the woman and landed on her back. Caught totally unprepared, the woman couldn't pull out of her dive. She slammed into the snow only a yard from Josh.
As the woman impacted into the snow, Rachal used her force shove augmentation to shove the woman into the ground while propelling herself upward. With the added assist, Rachal bounded off the woman's back and disappeared into the relative safety of the trees, showing incredible agility and grace.
"Nice one!" Josh nodded as he moved forward and slammed his fist into the woman's upper shoulders. His heightened strength was more than enough to smash her into the frozen ground, knocking her cold while breaking her right shoulder in multiple locations.
Another ball of fire spiraled toward the kid in boxers, only this time Skye purposefully stepped in the way. It exploded around her with no real effect. "Punk, you try your fire crap once more and I am going to fold you into one of the origami shapes I've been working on!"
The kid in the boxers and tee-shirt once again extended his arm and sent yet another beam in the direction of the fireball.
As it streaked past Skye, she could feel it was a bitterly cold bolt of energy. She cringed as she looked back at the clearly terrified, yet very angry kid only a year or two older than she. "We'll take care of this!"
The kid clenched his hand into a fist and unclenched it into a cup shape again. As another icy ray lanced out toward the fire thrower, the boy snarled, "He and his brother burned my dad and sister!"
Logan sprinted past both the kid and Skye. "Then he will go down, but you looked wiped out! Let us take over!"
Even as Logan spoke, another ball of fire burst from the hand of an older teen as he tried to fall back. It hit Logan's gloom armor and harmlessly exploded around him.
The COBRA cadet finally relented as he took another step behind Skye. Still, he shouted out a warning. "His fingers create the flaming balls and can blast out super hot sparks if you get close. Also be careful of a smaller kid who looks just like him, it's his younger brother. His brother's hand burns with a touch, and can even melt metal!"
Logan didn't even slow down. He charged straight at the much older teen and slashed downward with both his dark pulsing blades, cleanly slicing off a pair of fingers from one hand and three from the other. Before the pain could register, Logan went low and kicked with his foot, catching the young man's knee dead center. It bent back with a devastating snapping sound.
Logan still wasn't done. Before a scream could escape the lips of the separatist, Logan's elbow smashed into the bridge of the falling guy's nose, shattering it and knocking him cold. Logan spun in the deep snow and stood facing what was left of the older teen. A bit of a satisfied smile crossed his lips, "I don't think you'll be burning anyone else today!"
The shaky voice of another teen came from Logan's left. "You killed Tom!" As the boy advanced on Logan, sheets of flame swirled around his hands.
Logan shook his head and slashed his gloom blades in warning, forcing the kid to jump back. "You come after me with those hot hands, you'll lose them!" He looked back over his shoulder, only to realize he was basically alone facing the other kid. He thought about putting his back to a tree for some cover, but knew if those he was fighting had someone like Valda, he could very easily become the next victim of sudden spike growth.
Logan dove and rolled as the kid with the flaming hands eyes flashed and sent out a pair of golden rays. As he jumped back to his feet he could see the tree behind him now had twin deep puncture marks.
Logan went for his bow in his pack, but the kid leapt forward again, trying to touch him with the flaming hands.
Once again Logan slashed out with his blades, only to see the kid dance out of the way with incredible grace, seemingly ignoring the waist-deep snow.
The kid started to move to Logan's left in an attempt to get around him, only to scream in pain and fall. The flames around the kid's hands went out and he reached back and clutched the back of his leg.
At first Logan thought it was a trick, but as he moved closer he caught sight an orangeish colored shaft poking out of the kid's calf. Even as he spotted it, however, it was quickly fading. He also noted snow around where the kid was holding his leg was turning crimson with blood.
Behind the kid, Allen appeared holding another chi dagger while watching the kid closely.
Logan nodded to Allen. "Nice throw!"
"Thanks, but you should not go after anyone alone. You just left your team exposed on the right flank and you without support. I had to leave Tanner to guard the snow cat alone because you wanted to play the lone hero. Fortunately the COBRA kid was close enough to support Tanner and keep an eye on the flank you left open."
Allen continued to chastise Logan, not giving the younger boy a chance to respond. "This is almost the same thing that got you injured back in town. You went off alone. Fortunately, you were able to save a couple of kids who cared enough to help you, but you keep this up and you or someone who is counting on you will get seriously hurt or killed." As he finished talking, he walked up to the whimpering older teen and delivered a single powerful blow into the kid's face, knocking him out.
Allen took a step back and pointed down. "If there had been one more of them out here, this could have been you."
Rachal's voice came from above, "I had his back, Allen."
Allen glanced up and managed a smile. "You should be a bit more careful too, Rach."
"They'd have to be able to see me and catch me; most can't do either," Rachal responded as she effortlessly climbed down from the tree and dropped her light bending ability to become visible. "There were two others, but they are moving back to the north. One of them was limping and the other's left arm wasn't working right. The limping one was a woman, and the other was a kid about our age, a boy I think, but it was kind of hard to tell. He was crying though."
Logan turned and looked to the north and started to move, only to be grabbed by Reed, "We need to take them down…"
"Did you not hear a word I just said?"
"No, Logan!" Allen barked in a commanding tone, "You are about to head off on your own again!
"Just because they are both injured doesn't mean they are helpless. They are Augments after all, and we don't have a clue what they are packing! I agree, we need to try to stop them. The more we take out, the fewer will be guarding the hostages, but we need to do this as a full team."
Logan kicked at the snow in frustration, but finally nodded. "Yeah, you're right. AT would be kicking my butt for trying to do this alone…"
"You have a habit of this kind of crap, don't you?"
Josh emerged out of the blowing snow, clearly following the trail Logan had left behind. "You have no idea, Reed!" Josh then focused on Logan. "How bad are you hurt this time?"
"Thanks to them, not a scratch, Josh," Logan grumbled.
"Wow! There's a first," Valda snickered as she came over and patted Rachal on the back. "I can't remember a single training mission you didn't need some kind of healing by Josh."
Logan rolled his eyes, but decided to keep his mouth shut, knowing to do otherwise would only allow the multitude of stories about him getting hurt to start.
As Josh took a few moments to verify Logan was truly unhurt, Valda glanced down at Rachal. "I don't know why you are so down on yourself you are amazing!"
"No, you're not!" Reed next to yelled. "Stop saying that!"
Logan glanced up, happy to have a change of conversations, "I'd take you out to a school dance in a heartbeat."
Rachal's eyebrow shot up as she looked over at Logan with a great deal of suspicion, "Why? You're really cute. Lots of girls would like you."
"First off, you're not ugly and secondly, most girls aren't as quick and dangerous as you."
It was clear she didn't totally believe Logan, but she did her best to hide it. She looked down and frowned. "What are we going to do with these two?"
Reed responded, "We leave them and move out. I'll send their coordinates to RLD, but we don't have time to tend to wounded, nor do we have a secure place to put them. We need to reorganize quickly and at the very least stop those other two..."
He paused as he sent a rather nasty glare at Logan, "As a team."
A slight smirk crossed Josh's face, but he hid it quickly. "Reed, take Tanner, the Cobra, Gwen, and Rachal. Gwen's ankle is twisted, if not broken, the COBRA looks all but wiped out, and Tanner burns up too much energy out in this weather. The other team will be expecting some support. The rest of us will catch up after we take the last two down."
Reed frowned, "OK, but you should take Rach; she has the ability to see though some of this storm, and can provide ears and eyes from above."
Josh took a deep breath as he nodded slowly. He turned to Rachal in a soft but very commanding tone. "Stay high, stay invisible, and let us do the fighting. You all are supposed to be support only."
She looked down at the kid Reed and taken down. "A little late to worry about what we were supposed to do, don't you think?"
Reed shrugged and looked over to Josh with a smirk. "My sister has a point."
"Yeah, well I'm glad you bent the rules a bit, believe me," Logan stated seriously.
Reed patted Logan on the back while adding, "You're welcome."
Josh fired a bit of a mean glance at Logan as he spoke, "Maybe what A.T. has been telling him since joining the squadron will actually sink in." Turning back to Reed he took a deep breath. "We need to get moving if we are going to catch those other two, and you need to get in position to support the other team. If you get hit again, turn around and come right back toward us."
Reed rolled his eyes. "Sounds good, but somehow I don't think us being bait was what RLD command had in mind when they said we could be back up."
A gleam flashed into Josh's eyes. "Well, you could always back up toward us..."
Reed burst out into laughter. "I just may do that!"
Just up on the side road leading around to the backside of the resort, Rex glanced down at the control console of the snow cat and tapped the radar. "It looks like the others stopped well short."
Cassie nodded and spoke with an uneasy tone. "Which means they have already been hit." She glanced over as she let off the gas for a moment, then pushed her foot down on the pedal again. "It's your call. Do we double back and help them?"
From the back, Eldora spoke up. "No, our job is to get to the hostages and get them out. If we move back to help them, the whole plan goes up in smoke!"
Reluctantly Rex let out a sigh and pointed forward. "We have to trust them, besides, Eldora is right. Josh's whole plan was to pull as many off the hostages as they could so we could get them out with as little fighting as possible. Normals can't take the hits we can."
Kurt leaned forward. "I agree, but you need to floor it, Cassie. We have to get to the lodge before they all focus in on Reed and the others!"
Rex quickly agreed. "He's right. Punch it!" He then turned to look into the back, "Colt, you have Gustav, Garret and Ricky. The rest of us will hang back and support you or Josh's team as needed."
As the snow cat picked up speed, Eldora moved forward to crouch in the door leading to the control area. "Rex, you are the best up-close fighter we have. You should take command inside." Eldora took a deep breath before continuing. "Cassie, Ajax, Kurt and I will stay out and protect hostages as you send them out while covering Josh as needed."
Cassie quickly agreed but spoke in a soft voice so the others wouldn't hear. "She's right. Besides, we can't send the youngest ones in alone. Because, no matter how powerful Garret and Colt are, they are still going to need leadership."
Rex clenched his fist. "OK, just make sure you take care of Valda..."
Eldora sent a wink over at Cassie. "Squadron bets are they are the first two to get married and it'll be to each other."
As Cassie burst out into giggles, Rex's face turned a bright crimson. He growled lightly at Eldora as he stood and pushed past her to organize those assaulting the lodge with him.
Cassie couldn't help it. She glanced at Eldora and spoke loud enough for everyone in the snow cat to hear, "Wow, he really does like her!"
Thanks once again goes to D&B for his painstaking editing efforts!